More than half of Syria's pre-war population is now displaced. According to the UNHCR, Syrians represent the largest number of forcibly displaced people in the world; 13 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since 2011. Half of those were obliged to leave the country. We have 6.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs), most of them are in the northwest and northeast of the country; in areas outside the control of Assad's control.
Displaced People's Rights
In the first place, they have the right to a safe, voluntary, and dignified return to their homes. This right is more important when considering the long-term consequences of continued suffering and prolonged displacement.
Despite all this suffering, there were no significant returns to Syria, except in a statistically marginal number of individual cases in which people, for various reasons, were forced to choose this option. And the biggest proof of this is that there are millions of displaced Syrians living inside Syria, Lebanon and even in Turkey, who are able to return if they decide to do so, but they chose and insisted on not returning due to the threats upon their lives, freedom and rights in case they return, given that most of them had their property confiscated, their relatives arrested, or their homes demolished.
An even more important indicator is the continuous current of migration from the regime’s areas outwards, including northwest Syria.
This is primarily due to the fact that the regime continues to repress the areas it controls.
The Syrian Association for Citizens' Dignity (SACD) made considerable efforts to reach the displaced Syrians in different countries, as well the internally displaced people (IDPs) inside Syria, to explore in-depth what motivates their thinking about returning home, and the details of the factors that need to change, in their point of view, to return back to their homes safely.
Most of these concerns are related to security, far more than any other reason, but some concerns also include social and economic factors as well.
For example, in a survey with 1100 Syrians outside the regime areas in 2020, 84% of the people interviewed in this survey said that compulsory recruitment into the regime's army is a major obstacle to return. It is clear that the Syrian regime's resuming of compulsory recruitment alone provides a reason for the neighboring host countries and Europe to grant protection to displaced Syrians.
Security reasons were the most prominent causes for Syrians leaving their homes since 2012, with 98% of them leaving that year because with threat of their safety and security being the reason behind their escape.
The causes of security-related displacements include various forms such as fear of arrest, absolute authority of security services, enforced displacement and lack of rule of law.
Practices like arbitrary and illegal detention, kidnapping and enforced disappearance, and financial extortion continue to this day, and they are carried out against a political and sectarian background.
Only in three months in early 2020, more than a million people were displaced due to an attack, by Assad's forces and their Russian and Iranian allies, on towns and cities of Idlib and northern Aleppo.
The deterioration of living conditions was also another reason for the departure of Syrians, and it is also a reason that prevents their return: you all know the great economic deterioration that has hit Syria due to the regime’s policies, corruption, drug trade, the rise in prices and high inflation, with the absence of real job opportunities. We note here that the exchange rate of the dollar in 2011 was 50 pounds, and today it is 3650 pounds.
Unemployment is at its highest level in Syria, about 90% percent of Syrians are below the poverty line, and 60% of them are threatened with starvation, according to United Nations statistics last year.
No one wants to stay in Syria in these circumstances, and no one wants to return to it... This is not the Syria which we were born in, lived in and built.
Nevertheless, the Syrians want to go back, which is usually a rare case in a protracted conflict. This is because with the passage of time, the desire to return disappears, but we want to build our homeland again because it is our homeland and not the homeland of the dictators and their supporters.
This was emphasized by most of the displaced Syrians (73%) who insisted on their desire to return home if the right conditions are present, which was consistent with several studies we conducted. This means that more than 9 million Syrians insist on their right to a safe, voluntary, and dignified return to their homes in Syria if the right conditions are met.
The desire to return is closely related to the return of the Syrians as a community: we were deported as a community, and we want to return as a community, not as individuals.
Social ties and family ties are very important for Syrians, most of the displaced people interviewed (84%) consider that the return of displaced relatives and acquaintances is an essential condition to go back.
Last year, the Association conducted a new study on the situation in areas under Syrian regime control and the intentions and orientations of the Syrians there through a report titled Normalization of Horror, where 500 people living inside the regime’s areas were interviewed to provide us with an insight into the security and living reality, the impact of sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic.
This report is another attempt to put the reality of the situation in Syria in the hands of concerned policymakers. It is the fourth report of its kind that provides an insight into Syrians' views and perceptions on some of the most relevant issues that should be respected and considered in any conversations on the possibility of a safe, voluntary, and dignified return of displaced Syrians, and the final political solution that can bring hope in everlasting peace in Syria.
The report, which is the fourth of its kind, underlines the continued security and livelihood deterioration and the increase in corruption.
The report also draws a picture of a society disintegrating under the weight of the brutality, paranoia, and corruption of a regime that targets even those who have remained loyal to it throughout the conflict, not to mention those it considers disloyal or opposed to its rule.
Economic collapse and cancerous corruption at all levels of government led it to intensify its security services to increase arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance as tools to earn additional money by extorting the families of detainees in return for releasing them or just getting some information about the place of their detention.
The regime and Russia resorted to inventing what is called the areas of reconciliation, claiming that they will be a model for the bright future and the key to the solution.
It has been proven that the reconciliation areas were a failed model, and the results were clear in the worst deterioration in terms of the feeling of insecurity among respondents.
74% of the Association’s survey respondents in areas of reconciliation in 2019 stated that they do not feel safe in their area, this number rose to 94% in our 2020 survey.
These numbers clearly indicate that the reconciliation areas have failed to provide security for the citizens and that the regime's security policies and general practices reduce the feeling of security among Syrians.
In the case of reconciliation areas, 48% of respondents in the 2019 survey had the intention of leaving regime-controlled areas, while the percentage rose to 68% in 2020. And in areas controlled by the regime since 2011, the percentage increased from 23% in 2019 to 47% in 2020. These numbers go in line with those detailed in the March 2021 Norwegian Refugee Council report, which projected that Syria would see an additional 6 million refugees displaced in the next decade if the conflict continues.
Of course, the regions of eastern Syria may not be as bad as the regime areas, but they are definitely not a safe environment, where human rights violations and ethnic discrimination are very severe.
Yet it is clear, based on reports and figures, and the diligent follow-up of the situation in Syria that:
- Syrians leaving their homeland involuntarily, and the causes of displacement still exist;
- The number of detainees in Syria from 2019 to 2021 reached approximately 11,607 ;
- The enforced return of Syrians will have catastrophic effects on Syria itself and on neighboring countries;
- Normalization will eventually lead to forced return, and it is an abuse of the rights of Syrians in general and the displaced in particular. It will cause new waves of displacement. Our studies, reports, and reports of international parties confirm this.
- The safe environment is the base and foundation of any political solution in Syria. It cannot be bypassed, and achieving it is the logical solution not only for the displaced, but also to all Syrians and asylum countries, and it must be the basis on which the political solution is built. If it is neglected, there will be no political solution in Syria.
We thank Turkey and its people for hosting us, and we thank them for their assistance. This is a debt that we will not forget and will have a role in building healthy and fruitful relations in the future, God willing. But we assure you that we are working hard to give every Syrian the opportunity to return to their homeland, and this requires securing a safe environment.
Let us work together to provide our people with a safe, voluntary and dignified return back to their homes... Let's together build a better region for all and a bright future.